british american tobacco p.l.c. sustainability report 2010 - Stakeholders' challenging questions

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Sustainability Report 2010

In our 2009 Sustainability Report, we answered some of the more challenging questions our stakeholders ask. Having received positive feedback on our openness around these issues, we have decided to repeat them here.

If you have a question you would like to see answered in a future Report or have any feedback on these questions and answers or any other aspect of our approach, please email us at sustainability@bat.com.

Should a tobacco company aim to be sustainable?

Addressing sustainability issues, such as striving to develop and introduce potentially reduced-risk products and upholding high standards of corporate conduct in the marketplace, is fundamental to being a responsible tobacco business. We see it as particularly important for businesses in controversial or challenging industries to address sustainability, as this is where the most significant issues exist and where the greatest progress can be made.

Do you engage with stakeholders who are most critical of the tobacco industry?

It’s regrettable that we are unable to engage with some of our critics. We remain committed to constructive engagement with any stakeholder on tobacco-related sustainability issues. We believe we are making some progress. To those we have yet to successfully engage, we can only say again that while there may be areas of contention, we believe that candid and open dialogue can find common ground.

Is this all ‘PR spin’?

Not from where we sit. We have worked hard to identify meaningful issues and actions for our business. For each topic in the Report, there is a strong case for saying we must get it right to continue our success long term. Of course, there are some stakeholders – and perhaps always will be – who accuse us and other businesses of ‘spin’ whatever we do.

These are often people or groups who refuse to enter dialogue or to discuss their concerns with us. But stakeholders who do talk with us often seem surprised by our candour and willingness to listen. Some are people and groups who would not have engaged with us a few years ago. So there is evidence that, over time, our commitment to corporate responsibility is being seen as far more than just ‘PR’ or ‘window-dressing’. To those who doubt us, our door remains open.

Has your approach to sustainability altered in the current economic climate?

We don’t see sustainability as a ‘nice to have’ that can be dropped if the economic environment gets tough. Our sustainability agenda is integrated into our business strategy and we believe our business strategy works in good times and bad, so it won’t change if the going gets tough, and neither will our sustainability agenda. Our sustainability agenda focuses on our most material issues – tobacco harm reduction, the way we operate in our marketplace and supply chain, our environmental impacts and ensuring we have the right people to deliver our vision. These are important in both tough times and boom times – indeed in tough times, they are arguably all the more important.

Do you concentrate on developing markets that have less tobacco regulation?

We have operated in very different cultures around the world for over a century, so it’s certainly not new for us to be in developing economies. It’s also important to point out that when we talk about growth, we don’t mean ‘selling smoking’ to boost the number of people in the world who smoke or the amount they smoke. We mean growing our share – and the value of our share – of adult tobacco consumers. Just because a country is an emerging economy doesn’t mean it will have fewer marketing restrictions.

For example, Mexico and Mauritius have even stricter marketing regulations than the UK and one of the world’s most highly developed countries, the USA, has less demanding restrictions than the UK. All countries have laws and we obey them – and the rules we set for ourselves often go beyond the law. For example, our policy is not to market to anyone under 18, even where the minimum legal age for tobacco sales is lower or there is no legal age at all.

Why haven’t you launched a ‘safer’ cigarette?

The science needed to demonstrate that any new products pose reduced risks to health does not yet exist, nor is there any agreed science-based regulatory framework for evaluating such products. It will be some time before any tobacco business will be able to launch a ‘safer’ cigarette product that has been demonstrated to present lower risks, but we believe we are making progress.

Can you be responsible when you need to compete?

We believe we can. We must compete to be sustainable and we believe that marketing our products in accordance with our International Marketing Standards ensures that we do so responsibly. Not all our competitors follow similar standards and we would like to see a level competitive playing field, so we lobby governments where local laws are not as strict as our Standards.

Aren’t you responsible for destroying natural forests to provide fuel to cure tobacco?

Some farmers do use wood as fuel to cure tobacco leaf but we encourage them, wherever possible, to cultivate their own sustainable sources of wood. We also sponsor the growing of trees for fuel. We have a target for zero use of natural forest for directly contracted farmers’ curing fuels by 2015.

Don’t you just exploit farmers so you can make as much profit as possible?

No; if they do well, we do well. Providing farmers with agronomy support and an assessment programme aimed at continual improvement underpins the security of a supply of high quality leaf. Exploiting farmers for short-term profit would be very bad for our business.

Who would want to work for a tobacco company anyway?

We recruit people who enjoy working in a challenging environment and a culturally diverse organisation. We also work hard to provide a workplace culture in which people can thrive and reach their potential.